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A man who joins the U. S.

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Robert L. “Bob” “Orpalo” “Tudoc” Valerio, 85, died June 30, 2019, in Seattle.
5/26/2018
Invasive rabbits threaten in Sitka

SITKA — Rabbits not native to the area have been showing up in a Sitka neighborhood.

Resident Alice Wolcott has spotted a large rabbit twice in her neighborhood on Lance Drive, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported Thursday.

"It is larger than any rabbit I've ever seen before," Wolcott said. "My neighbor said live traps did no good and that there are at least six rabbits in the neighborhood."

Animal Control Officer Ken Buxton said rabbits aren't native to Baranof Island and consequently pose a serious threat to the stability of Sitka's ecosystem.

He said the number of rabbit sightings and the number actually turned in to Animal Control increased tenfold in the past year. And, with rabbits' ability to produce 30 to 40 offspring each year, Buxton believes the number of feral rabbits probably will increase, barring human intervention.

"In fact, they're not native to the U.S.," Buxton said. "Most of them you see are the European rabbits. We do have some North African rabbits as pets, as well. If they're not a pet, they're an invasive species."

Rabbits in the wild feed on plants that are integral to the well-being of the local environment, he said.

One single rabbit can decimate 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of some indigenous plant species, which, depending on the location of the site, could destabilize the soil underneath, he said.

"They can wipe out native shrubs and trees by grazing them right to the ground," he said. "The seedlings don't get a chance."

Buxton said he worries that an increased number of rabbits might lead to a surge in eagles.

Steve Bethune, a biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Division of the Alaska Fish and Game, expressed concern that local bears would start feeding on rabbits, drawing them into residential areas.

Buxton said he believes the problem can be traced to owners who keep rabbits as pets, or raise them as livestock, without taking the necessary precautions.

He said an island in Sitka Sound was recently discovered to have more than 100 rabbits roaming freely, and the man living there was evicted.

Buxton said he hasn't yet brought the spike in the number of rabbit calls to the attention of the troopers, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or the Assembly, but is confident he can count on local support moving forward.

"It isn't about harming the rabbits; it's about holding humans accountable," he said.